The Last Day of Mobius Seattle 2008: AKA the Spectacular MacBook Pro Meltdown

When I arrived at the conference area to grab breakfast before entering, Tim McAfee was there to greet us, handing out my Flickr t-shirts. I was hoping for a medium, but some of the other guys had already beat me to them; he made it up to me by giving me two larges. Ha! After getting set up and then eating my food, I settled in with the others to listen to the first presentation on the Microsoft Zune.

Creative Strategies Presentation

Ben from Creative Strategies started a two hour discussion with the question “How is technology going to better integrate and improve people’s lives.” He gave a quick overview of the personal computing experience over the past couple decades, and about how many of the systems we had bought were basically versions of the current enterprise models. In the last few years, the trend has become about choices – colors, configurations, various sizes, making the whole experience more optimized and personal for each individual.

CS’s view of the Digital Future is that “No device is an island,” meaning that all of your information will be synced with all of your devices, in all of your locations. I’m ready for that…

After the session wrapped up, John Starkweather said he had a competition for us to participate in: we were to go downstairs to the Hotel 1000’s indoor driving range, and we would be compete to see who could drive the golf ball the farthest as well as who could get it closest to the hole. I folded my MacBook Pro’s lid almost all the way down, since I was still uploading pictures.

We headed into the bottom floor of the hotel, where the spa, gym, and virtual golf courses were located, and that was when I realized that I was completely out of my element. Let me say right now that I have never played golf, unless you count Putt-Putt, and this was as alien to me as walking on the moon. Plus I had on three-inch heels. But somehow, I managed to do okay – I didn’t finish last in either event. πŸ˜‰

After our competitive streaks had been satisfied, we went back upstairs. Tadd and Matt each won the two separate competitions, so they did “best of three” rock paper & scissors to see who would win the big prize – ax X-Box 360! They actually tied, and had to do another round; Tadd wound up winning the big prize. πŸ™‚

It was just before the next session was to begin that I lifted my MBP’s lid to wake it up and see if I could quickly check my email. But my mouse was frozen on the screen. “Okay, that’s odd”, I thought to myself, but I wasn’t worried yet. I tried to do a “force quit”, but the mouse still wouldn’t move. I swiped the touch pad a few times waiting for the mouse to wake up, but it wouldn’t. I finally hit the power button and shut down the laptop. When I tried to boot it again, the screen was white and nothing would happen. In disbelief, I just stared at my screen.

When we finally ended the call, 59.22 minutes later, I was so frustrated and angry that I vowed until I live in a town with an Apple store I will never buy an Apple computer. And it pains me to say that, because I truly do want one. 😐

Recognize that statement? My own words about never buying a Mac laptop because I don’t live in a town with an Apple store were coming back to haunt me, but thankfully when things went wrong I happened to be in a city that had one.

Joel Evans and eric lin came over to see if they could help. eric suggested this crazy finger-contorting restart that we tried to no avail. Joel put his ear to my laptop’s left side and said the hard drive seemed extra loud. eric made me an appointment at Seattle’s U Village Apple store’s Genius Bar for 4:15, and so I shut my laptop down again and sat in misery while the next presentation started.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about data loss, because I keep everything backed up on Time Machine when at home, so I was good through the morning I had left, but it was the fact that I was at a Microsoft sponsored event with an Apple computer which had just FAILED, and the irony was lost on no one.

It made me thankful that the day before when the Microsoft team had been there discussing Apple, and what we liked or disliked about the Windows versus Mac experience, I had been very forthcoming about some of the frustrations I had experienced as a new Mac user, and that there had been a few more issues involved with the switch than I had been led to believe there would be.

Let me elaborate on that for a minute: I have heard how the Mac will hardly ever freeze up, how the whole user experience is much more satisfying, and how everything is so much “easier”. Well give me a break…none of that has necessarily proven to be true. I suppose if you are someone that just surfs, emails, and blogs then it might be. But I have experienced driver incompatibility issues – particularly with wireless printer routers, problems finding comparable software to the Windows versions that I am happy with, occasional freezes as well as other quirks that have led me to conclude that the Mac OS is no more a simple solution than Windows. It is just a “different” solution with much nicer hardware than I am used to, and since I want to be device as well as OS agnostic, I chose to educate myself by trying something new. In other words, I haven’t had enough kool-aide to say that either is better or to sing the praises of one over the other. I’ll just say that I love the Mac hardware, and I truly appreciate that it allows me the choice of dual booting (running OSX and XP Pro in cohesion via Parallels), and leave it at that.

I settled in to listen to the next presentation, which was from Verdiem, and was focused on helping companies find ways to be more “green”.

Some of the slides from the presentation illustrated some of the ways money and resources are wasted…

Simple acts like shutting your computer down and not running a resource intensive screen saver when you don’t can help.

Halfway through the presentation, Joel came over to me and said he had spent the last 20 minutes researching my problem. It appeared to be a problem with the BootCamp sector, and there were tons of online complaints of the “white screen of death”. Add another instance where the Mac legend doesn’t quite live up to reality. We took that moment to step out of the room and try to implement some of the “fixes” he had been able to find. Nevertheless, none of them worked and we agreed that my only option was to take the laptop back to Apple.

Once this presentation was over, I gathered my equipment and left to catch my cab and hopefully make it in time for my appointment at the Genius Bar. A $20 cab ride later, I was at the U Village Apple Store being greeted at the door, told to walk to the back, and once there I was greeted by name by my “genius”. Let me back up for a moment…

I should add that this was my first time inside any Apple store, and the experience was pretty mind boggling. As I walked to the back, I couldn’t help but gape at all the gorgeous hardware an accessories on either side of me.

My genius listened to a description of what had happened, and he confirmed as Joel had that the hard drive was making noises it shouldn’t. He flat out told me that he doubted that any of my data could be salvaged, and I practically begged him to try. Why did I care so much? Because I had just found out that even though I could see the Windows disk in Time Machine, none of the data in the Windows side of my disk was being backed up. Color me ignorant, but it was a really unpleasant surprise. It meant that the data I had entered into MS Money since the beginning of March, when I had first started using the MacBook was gone; I would have to completely rebuild it from scratch, but that was a problem for another day. Right now I was concerned because a laptop I had purchased less than three months before had so seriously failed.

I waited while the genius checked to see if there was a 250GB 5400rpm hard drive in stock so they could swap it out, but there was not. He said the Bellevue store might have one, but when I told him I would have to take a cab to get there, he said it wasn’t a good idea. Since I don’t know the area, or the distances involved, I took his advice. He said he could give me a 200GB 4200 rpm hard drive as a replacement, but he knew it wasn’t an ideal trade, and I flat out refused to do it. Another option he offered was for me to buy an external hard drive to connect to the laptop and boot off of; I wasn’t going to make that compromise with such a new laptop; it simply had to go back for warranty work.

As I stood there waiting for the genius to go through the motions, I Twittered:

The Last Day of Mobius Seattle 2008: AKA the Spectacular MacBook Pro Meltdown

I kept asking him to check and see if he could salvage anything from my disk, and he kept putting me off – I guess he was trying to delay the inevitable, whereas I just wanted to have my worst suspicions confirmed. He finally pulled out a hard drive which he connected to my MBP, and sure enough, there was no way to access my hard drive; my data was all gone.

It was about then that Allen called to check on me; he had seen my Tweet, and wanted to know if I could get the hard drive to send to him. Allen happens to work for a data recovery service in New York, and he knew he would be able to help. Unfortunately I had to send the original drive back with the laptop in order to get the new drive replaced. I almost wish now that I had just done that.

When I realized things were gone so far south, I started to explore my options. The MacBook Pro is my only computer at the moment, and it is a situation I have never found myself in before. I knew that if he couldn’t replace the hard drive that day, I was going to be without a computer of any kind for at least a week. I wasn’t willing to accept something less than I had paid for, just so I could leave with a working computer, so I did the next best thing: I arranged for him to send my MBP in for warranty work, and I bought a MacBook Air.

Now before I bought it, I specifically asked what Apple’s return policy was because in all honesty I figured it would be worth whatever the restocking fee might be to get the use of another laptop while I waited for mine. The genius accepted my MBP and readied it for shipment back to Apple, and I made my purchase from a sales associate. Regarding terms, I was told that my laptop would have to be returned to the Apple store from which it had been purchased, and when I explained that I lived in Texas and that might not be possible, and would they accept a return via mail, my associate said that maybe they could since it was an extenuating circumstance. :sigh:

The entire time this was going on I was replying to texts from Joel as he checked on my status. I think I shocked him when I said my solution was to buy an Air, but by then all he could talk about was how well he knew me, and that he had money on me not being able to return it, even after my MBP was returned. Maybe he is right, maybe he is wrong, but at least I have two weeks to figure out what I am going to do.

Luckily, one I was home I was indeed able to use Time Machine to restore everything that had been on my MacBook Pro. Unfortuantely, my Money info is lost and I am not going to dual boot XP onto the Air to rebuild. That will have to wait until the MBP returns. In the meantime, I am going to explore over the air backup solutions for my personal data, just as I currently do for Gear Diary’s data.

The good news? When I returned home I had a package from Turkey waiting for me. Ali from BeyzaCases made good on his promise to send me a tan leather MacBook Air Thinvelope with white stitching, and as he likes to do – this one was personalized with my name. When he offered I obviously didn’t have an Air, and I had no idea how I would review it; now I have an Air, and it is no longer an issue. The Thinvelope is even lovelier than I had thought it might be when I first wrote about it; so see, there is an upside to this story. πŸ˜‰

The Last Day of Mobius Seattle 2008: AKA the Spectacular MacBook Pro Meltdown

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

24 Comments on "The Last Day of Mobius Seattle 2008: AKA the Spectacular MacBook Pro Meltdown"

  1. Chris Magnusson | May 18, 2008 at 9:57 pm |


    At least you have something to work on.

    As for the Money data, I switched to Wesabe several months ago. Obviously the user experience is different (there’s no reconciliation for one thing) but as long as I keep it up to date, I can check my balances from anywhere I can get a wifi connection.

  2. Chris, I will check out Wesabe. I am curious about whether or not it allows you to do category reports? πŸ™‚

  3. Joel McLaughlin | May 18, 2008 at 10:10 pm |

    Wow. What a ride!!

  4. Chris Magnusson | May 18, 2008 at 10:14 pm |

    I’m checking that now.

  5. Chris Magnusson | May 18, 2008 at 10:19 pm |

    @Judie (I had neglected to see if anyone else had replied before my last reply :oops:): Yes, it “does” “category” “reports”. There’s a tag cloud on the right; click on any of those to get a list of transactions related to that tag. Not reports per se, but close.

  6. Thanks Chris. I am going to check it out right NOW πŸ™‚

  7. raymond_u | May 18, 2008 at 10:39 pm |

    Wow. Very sorry to hear that Judie. I’ve used Macs for 6-7 years myself, with no problems. But then Apple does, as every other company in the world, send lemons sometimes. Hope this doesn’t deter you from further Mac purchases πŸ˜€

  8. kevinnugent | May 18, 2008 at 10:40 pm |

    Hey Judie, you have the Advantage to use!! πŸ™‚


  9. Nah, I understand hardware failures. I just think it is ridiculous to revere any brand and act like it never has any faults. I think the fact that I bought an MBA shows that it’s nothing personal against Apple. πŸ™‚

  10. @kevinnugent Yeah, but I need a laptop, too. πŸ˜‰

  11. Deni Tako | May 18, 2008 at 11:56 pm |

    I wish I could say that I didn’t understand what you are going through, but this has been the worst year for laptops for me EVER. I bought a MacBook on the day Leopard came out (quite by accident – I hadn’t followed any Mac related news to that point) and had it die a week later. I took it back to the Apple store where they replaced it on the spot. The replacement lasted nearly a month before it died as well. Another replacement, another month. Finally in January I did the last replacement before I finally got one that seemed to work. It did make it back to the genius bar when a CD got stuck in the superdrive, and they were about to do another replacement, when a good rap on the back of the MacBook caused the CD to come out. So, this one has lasted about 4 months now, and still seems to be working, but I think that anyone who buys a Mac without AppleCare (which extends the warranty from 1 year to 3 years) is asking for trouble.

    Now, not all of the trouble has been with Macs – my HP 17″ notebook suffered from a motherboard crash, requiring it to be sent in for repair. I did a web search after attempting to speak to too many people for whom English was not their first language, and managed to find a number for and speak to an HP Case Manager, who monitored my attempted repairs, and ultimately arranged for a replacement when after 3 weeks they could not provide an ETA for the repair. The replacement arrived with a bad graphics card. Another replacement-2 was ordered and the replacement-1 being shipped back. All was well until about 5 weeks after using replacement-2, when suddenly the display would not power back on. Hmmm – back to where I was in January – a machine with a bad motherboard. Back in for repairs again, which fortunately only took a week this time.

    In all of that, I basically learned that having an Apple store is nice, because, at least at the one I went to, they were very willing to make sure that I had a usable machine when I left the store, and that shipping computers is an iffy prospect, since HP is claiming they never received the replacement-1 I shipped back to them. (Which I suspect was swiped at the Fed-Ex Kinko’s I dropped it off at – who knew you were supposed to watch them scan it before leaving???)

    But, even though Apple was better at replacing the units, I’m kinda over the whole Mac thing. I don’t like the interface for Word or Excel, even the 2008 versions or Pages & Numbers for that matter, and I use Word and Excel a lot – not finding the interface fun makes my work a challenge. Boot Camp is a fun idea, but causes more problems that it seems to solve – up to and including the fact that it would not load Windows XP from the original Windows CD, I had to burn a copy of it to make it work! (Google that one – I swear, it’s a real problem!)

    I’m used to my Windows programs, and seeking out Mac alternatives is like buying the generic peanut butter – close but not the same.

    I even paid the extra money to get Apple’s One to One, and found out that was a major bust too – I’d go in with a list of questions, and have a trainer that had no clue how to answer them and then have to do a survey of other people in the store to guess at answers.

    So, the MacBook is going up for sale, and I’m gonna check out the HP TX2000Z tablet and see how that works out for me.

  12. Ouch Deni! I certainly hope that your experience isn’t par for the course. <-- look at me using golf references when I obviously have no business doing so! πŸ˜‰ Thanks for sharing your ordeals; they are certainly giving me something to think about. Now here's the question: how come we don't hear more people complaining about their Mac experiences? I mean, I was almost feeling like I was the lone goober out here having a bad time with a few issues. πŸ˜‰

  13. Deni Tako | May 19, 2008 at 1:01 am |

    LOL – I felt the same way!

  14. TrvlngDrew | May 19, 2008 at 1:29 am |

    Oh Judie.. What a nightmare!! Well I’m curious what you think about the Air, I bought the MacBook and really have had so much trouble converting my Windows ways to it, that I have sort of given up! I know its just a problem on my part, not learning the Apple way, but just trying to synch my Nokia phone is a nightmare! Well certainly keep us up to date as you travel along this road.. πŸ™

  15. Oh Drew, I totally understand what you are going through. I have begun to understand “the Apple way”, but I do have issues…obviously. πŸ˜›

  16. TrvlngDrew | May 19, 2008 at 1:44 am |

    Okay so just knuckle down and keep slogging my way through it.. I just need a resident Apple expert to re-align my thinking aka rap me on the fingers when I start thinking like Microsoft! πŸ˜›

  17. David Goodspeed | May 19, 2008 at 8:12 am |

    To make yourself feel better you should have gone back and found those little guys wearing medium t-shirts and kicked their butts. Hey, they’re wearing mediums, you coulda taken em – meltdown for a meltdown ya know. In Seattle, I am sure that is a usable court defense….

  18. Hey Judie, sorry to hear you had such a catastrophic meltdown (partly because I’d encouraged you to go there). I hope you manage to recover as much of your data as possible. On the bright side, it got you a sexy MacBook Air, so make sure to tell us how you get on with that!

  19. Judie, sorry to hear about your MBP. When I was using Money in Parallels on my MacBook (until a couple of months ago), I just stored the data on my Mac partition and used a network path to access it via Parallels (it was something like \\.psf\finances\money.mny). I’ve actually switched now instead to MoneyDance – I wanted something Mac native rather than having to launch Parallels, and I definitely don’t trust anything online with my finance info besides the institutions that hold my money.

    Anyway, you can stay with Money and still have Time Machine (or, say, SuperDuper) back it up. At the very least you can set Money to save your back up files to your Mac partition using something like the network path above.

  20. @David – Nah, I learned by playing golf with them that some of those smaller guys were way stronger than the bigger ones. πŸ˜‰

    @Alison – I am still not 100% sure that I am going to keep the Air, but so far I like it a lot. I have a weird problem where the wireless indicator shows as empty and I have to manually restore my network connection after restarting the computer (ever since backing up from Time Machine), but I’ll hopefully figure out how to fix that soon. πŸ™‚

    @doogald – Thank you for the tips on setting up Money. Once I get my MBP back, I will partition that drive again (but with a smaller GB amount this time) and back it up as you recommended. πŸ™‚

    I tried Wesabe last night, and I think it will be handy this week while I wait for my MBP. But putting aside any online concerns, it is definitely not as robust a solution as what I need. :-/

  21. Drew, I think it just comes down to having to commit at least a week or so to only using the Mac (and the Windows side only when you have to access a particular program), and then you do at least get comfortable with the Mac OS. It truly is a commitment issue, too. πŸ˜‰

    If you know you can just swap back to a Windows box at the first sign of trouble, then you won’t stick with it. πŸ˜›

  22. Christopher Gavula | May 19, 2008 at 10:07 am |

    Ouch. What a painful experience.

    I’ve been using both Windows-basee PCs and Macs for years now and I’ve generally have better luck with my Macs. My current MBPro has been rock solid as was the Macbook I had before it, but, of course, not everyone has the same experience.

    Your experience about finding “comperable” software titles, is pretty common though. You end up doing things differently, rather than trying to match like for like. It’s not necessarily a better or wors thing, just different.

    I also agree with the comment you made about mindlessly advocating the platform. I advocate it for it’s positives, but, as people who’ve asked me can attest, I’m also pretty fast out of the chute to point out the flaws.

    Parallels and VMWare, for example, while good solutions, aren’t flawless, and both make significant changes to the Bootcamp partition, and I’m not entirely comfortable with those changes.

    There’s still no good equivalent for MS Visio. You can get kind of cloe with ConceptDraw, but it doesn’t support all of th Visio file formats (I suspect due to an MS licensing or reverse-enginering type issue).

    Quickbooks isn’t the same in the Mac version – it’s missing features found in the Window’s version (or it was last time I checked).

    And the list goes on. All of this shouldn’t detract from the generally excellent hardware and, for me at least, the overall experience has been very positive. I hope you experience gets better as well!

  23. @Christopher – Thanks! I think the main thing that everyone needs to take from my experience is that it is not the end of the world and it obviously didn’t scare me away from the platform. Actually, it would take a whole lot more than that to scare me. πŸ˜‰

    I do have to give major kudos to apple, as my Time Machine backup worked pretty much flawlessly. I think that the little glitches that I have encountered, like the empty WiFi indicator, may be because I backed up from an MBP and restored to an Air.

  24. Wow. Just got back from golf nirvana at Pinehurst and was dismayed to hear about your ordeal. Obviously Apple is not immune to hardware failures. Mac software isn’t immune to crashes either, but in my experience it is much more stable and responsive than Windows, and when it does have a problem it recovers more gracefully. It also starts up and shuts down a lot faster than Windows.

    One thing that struck me about your experience and some of the other comments here is that many of the issues are the result of clinging to Microsoft. Installing Windows on the Mac, using the Mac version of Office, and generally wanting the Mac to be like Windows. Apple has promoted the Mac’s Windows capabilities to lure users away, but personally I think it is best to make a clean break. iWork is file-compatible with Office and iLife is a thing of beauty. There are Mac equivalents for the essential apps and hopefully since Macs are selling so well developers will make Mac equivalents for all the niche apps people need. Well I’m off to have another drink of Kool-Aid now. πŸ˜‰

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